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MC&A Newsletter
Volume XXVI  :: October 2012 
ELECTION SPECIAL
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Mdiwin Charles

 

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Halted . . . For Now

Vote On October 2, 2012, a judge in Pennsylvania temporarily blocked a state law requiring the presentation of photo identification to vote in November's presidential election. The law, signed in March by Governor Tom Corbett, requires anyone wishing to vote to present a state-approved identification card at the polls.

In May 2012, a lawsuit was filed challenging the Pennsylvania law. The case made it all the way to the state Supreme Court, who sent it back to the Commonwealth Court. Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court upheld the law when he ruled on it in August 2012. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court instructed Judge Simpson in September to hold further hearings on the issue to determine whether the state had done enough to ensure all voters had liberal access to photo ID cards. In his decision to temporarily block the law, Judge Simpson stated, "I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. Under these circumstances, I am obliged to enter a preliminary injunction."

Judge Simpson stated further in his ruling that Pennsylvania voters can be asked to present ID at the polls on election day, but those without the photo ID card will still be able to vote on a regular ballot, as opposed to a provisional ballot.

Those opposed to the ID law consider the ruling only a partial victory. "While we're happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls, and this could cause confusion," stated Penda D. Hair, the co-director of Advancement Project. Advancement Project is one of the groups challenging the law in court.

The law was passed in March without any support from Democrats. Democrats claim that voter ID laws are a means of preventing poor and minority groups from voting, because those groups are less likely to have the means to obtain the required ID documents. Those who support the voter ID law believe that the requirement that all voters present a valid state issued photo ID will decrease - if not eradicate - instances of voter fraud at the polls. However, there are no known cases of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

Prior to the passing of the voter ID law, a voter needed only to present documents such as bank statements or utility bills to cast a ballot. To be issued a state photo ID, a person must provide a valid Social Security card, an official birth certificate or U.S. citizenship documents, and two proofs of residency in the state of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is just one of many states across the country locked in a legal battle over newly passed voting laws. New voting laws across the country are in the midst of legal battles. In Texas and Wisconsin, the courts blocked the states' voter ID laws. In South Carolina, the Justice Department blocked a similar law. In New Hampshire, the state is allowed to proceed with its newly enacted voter ID law, but voters who show up at the polls without the requisite identifying documents will still be able to vote and will have a month to verify their identity to officials.

Thirty other states have some type of ID law in place. Only Georgia, Kansas, Tennessee and Indiana require a photo ID to cast a regular ballot. The other states simply provide provisional ballots to those lacking identifying documentation. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law as constitutional.

Those states providing the provisional ballots to voters without identification could cause delays in determining the outcome of the election if it is a close one. The provisional ballots allow the voter to cast his or her vote, but the vote is only counted after officials are able to verify the identification of that voter. The verification process can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks. In the 2008 presidential election, over 2 million provisional ballots were cast. In a landslide election, those votes won't change the outcome. The same cannot be said for a close race such as the current one between Mitt Romney and President Obama.

And as for Pennsylvania, while the new voter ID law will not affect the November election, Judge Simpson stated that it could go into effect as early as next year.

 

Sources: "Voter ID Rules Fail Court Tests Across Country," by Ethan Bronner, Oct. 2, 2012, The NY Times; "Judge blocks Pennsylvania voter ID law for November election," by CNN Wire Staff, Oct. 2, 2012, www.cnn.com; "Judge halts Pennsylvania voter ID law," by Catalina Camia, Oct. 2, 2012, USA Today; "New voter laws could delay outcome of close elections as states scrutinize provisional ballots," by Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2012, The Washington Post

 

Absentee Ballots: Why Your Vote May Not Count

On November 6, millions of people will line at up their local polling stations to vote in person in the presidential election. Millions more will vote using the absentee ballot, submitting their choice for the next president of the United States via mail. According to the United States Election Assistance Commission, in the 2010 federal mid-term elections, of the 90.8 million Americans who voted, 14.2 million of those voters used absentee ballots.

While election officials state that absentee ballots are a secure mode of voting, others submit that absentee ballots are problematic because they are highly susceptible to voter fraud. In general, voter fraud is fairly uncommon, but when it occurs, it is most often seen with absentee ballots. Murry Greenberg, a former Miami county attorney, points out that at senior citizen centers, affiliates of the political campaigns "help" the senior citizens vote. The senior citizens are easily swayed through subtle pressure and some of the "helpers" go so far as to outright intimidate the elderly voters. Absentee ballots also make it easier to buy and sell votes.

In addition to issues surrounding voter fraud, statistics show that votes cast using absentee ballots are less likely to be counted and more likely to be contested than in-person ballots. What does this mean for the election? With increasing numbers of people voting through absentee ballots, issues arising with absentee ballots will be more likely to affect the outcome of the election. For example, according to a study conducted by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the 2008 presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots but only 27.9 million absentee ballots were counted. Stewart determined in his study that 3.9 million voters never received their requested absentee ballots, 2.9 million ballots received by voters were never returned to election officials, and election officials rejected 800,000 of the absentee ballots that were returned.

While many states are locked in legal battles over voter ID laws for in-person voting, little has been done to prevent fraud associated with absentee voting. In fact, Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt pointed out to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2011 that stricter in-person voting laws will "drive more voters into the absentee system, where fraud and coercion have been documented to be real and legitimate concerns." This means that, ironically, laws created to prevent fraud cause more people to utilize a system known for its susceptibility to fraud.

Also problematic with absentee ballots is the fact that election officials end up rejecting many mailed in ballots. The reasons for rejecting a ballot vary. The voter's signature on the ballot may not appear to match the signature that is on file. The voter may have failed to place the ballot and accompanying documents in the proper sequence. The address on the ballot may not match the voter's address on file. Whatever the reason, fraudulent or innocent, the result is a large number of votes not counting. Based on that fact, the real question is, does your (absentee) vote really count? If you choose to vote via absentee ballot, make sure to read and follow the instructions provided, and remember to update all your information with your local clerk. Otherwise, your vote may very well not count.

 

Sources: "Absentee ballots gain popularity despite warnings of potential voter fraud," by Eric Shawn, Oct. 4, 2012, Foxnews.com; "Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises," by Adam Liptak, Oct. 6, 2012, The NY Times

 

Hugo Chavez Wins 4th Presidential Election in Venezuela

chavez On October 7, 2012, voters in Venezuela lined up at polling centers across the country to vote in a landmark election that could have ended Hugo Chavez's reign as president - a title he has held since 1998. Chavez, a socialist, was up against younger moderate Henrique Capriles Radonski. Venezuela is a major oil producer and supplier to the United States, but during Chavez's term as president, he has cultivated relationships with Cuba and Iran and has referred to the U.S. and its allies as "imperialists." This will be Chavez's fourth term serving as the President of Venezuela.

As a socialist, Chavez has made great strides in his home country, creating numerous social programs to provide education, food and housing to Venezuela's poor. However, he has also exerted his power over the country's legislature and court system. Capriles vowed during his campaign that, if elected, he would put an end to government corruption and mismanagement. He would, however, maintain and improve Chavez's social programs.

Throughout his campaign for re-election, Chavez insisted that he would easily win the presidency over Capriles. In past years, he has won the election by margins of 22% and more, and he claimed that this election would be no different. Chavez ended up clinching the presidency by a much smaller margin than he predicted. He won with 54.4% of the vote, with Capriles earning 44.9%. More than 80 percent of Venezuela's registered voters participated in the October 7th election.

Capriles, a 40 year-old former governor, conceded his loss at campaign headquarters and congratulated Chavez on his win. He noted, however, that the strong support he received from voters across the country should signal to Chavez that some changes within the government are necessary. "I'm convinced this country can be better," said Capriles. "Being a good president means working for all Venezuelans."

Chavez addressed the nation from the balcony of the presidential palace after the results came in. "Today we have demonstrated - comrades, compatriots - that our democracy is one of the best in the world," he said, and he thanked all those who voted for him.

 

Sources: "Venezuelans Vote in a Landmark Election," by William Neuman, Oct. 7, 2012, The NY Times; "Hugo Chavez beats Henrique Capriles in Venezuela's presidential election," by Juan Forero, Oct. 7, 2012, The Washington Post

 

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MC&A is a law firm offering services in criminal defense and civil and commercial litigation.

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